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National experts to discuss free speech on campus

Chomsky_head shot_photo by John de Dios

Free speech, a right provided by the first amendment, is granted and encouraged on the University of Arizona campus.  

To teach students how to exercise this right, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is presenting “The Haury Conversation on Campus Free Speech” on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the North and South Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center.

The conversation will consist of a panel of some of the most respected voices on the topic of free speech: Noam Chomsky, a UA professor and an advocate for free speech; Nadine Strossen, a practicing lawyer and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union and, concluding the panel, Sigal Ben-Porath, famed author of “Free Speech on Campus.” 

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Kathy Adams Riester, an Associate Dean of Students, deals with a large portion of the first amendment rights of students on campus and said she thinks it’s important students understand what rights they have.

“I think it is important for students to have a better understanding about what rights the first amendment of the Constitution guarantees people in this country,” Riester said. “Many people think they know what ‘freedom of speech’ means, however they don’t really understands how it works on a college campus.”

On a college campus there are some restrictions that apply to free speech. For example, the time, place and manner of an expression of free speech matters. Also, speech should not disrupt the educational environment, according to Riester.

Riester also thinks students should understand that, even if they disagree with what someone is saying, the UA cannot silence anyone. If students get free speech, so does everyone else. 

“I often hear complaints from people on campus when they disagree with what someone exercising their free speech rights [especially] when the views being expressed are offensive, racist, sexist, homophobic … ” Riester said. “They don’t realize that this type of speech has the same protection under the first amendment.”

For engineering junior Hannah Gerson, seeing free speech in action on campus showed her how the UA has allowed everyone to express themselves.

“Every day I see the UA protecting every student’s first amendment rights, even if they aren’t the most positive expressions like Brother Dean [Saxton, a controversial campus preacher], for example,” Gerson said. “I’ve never been in the situation where I’ve wanted to protest something or project my ideals to a large group of people on the mall, but I know that if I did, the university wouldn’t shut me down and would allow me to speak my truth, as we see everyday on the mall from different groups.”

Political science and psychology junior Macy Birmingham has also witnessed her first amendment rights being protected by the UA. 

“The UA does a really good job protecting our first amendment rights because they let us peacefully protest/speak on our views,” Birmingham said. “Brother Dean, religious people and LGBTQ all get to have the equal right to speak on campus and make clubs. In actual classes, professors give students an equal chance to speak about how they feel on politics, religious freedoms and freedom of speech.”

Topics that will be touched on during the conversation include: why free speech has been so debatable in the past few years and how students can play a role in lowering the animosity seen on college campuses.

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“My hope would be that this event would help increase student’s understanding of how the first amendment works at public universities like the University of Arizona,” Riester said.

While free tickets for this event were available on chomsky.arizona.edu, the event is currently sold out.

The first amendment discussion will continue at the Constitutional Coffee Chat hosted by the Dean of Students Office on Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the UA Mall to help further educate students on the boundaries of their first amendment rights on campus. Faculty from the office as well as University of Arizona Police Department officers will also be handing out pocket-sized Constitutions and coffee, while talking to people about free speech at the UA.


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